The Future of Commerce: 4 Things We Learned at Shopify Unite!

As our team was leaving sunny San Francisco to head back to an ice storm in Toronto from Shopify Unite, we seemed to be the only ones on the plane eyes wide open and smiles on our faces. We’re excited, Shopify has announced some serious new functionality that will drive more business for its merchants. Tobi Lütke (CEO of Shopify) clearly has his eye on the prize. They reiterated their relentless focus on leading the way in mobile commerce (with announcements on it below), as well as exploring future technologies. We even got to try a VR shopping experience they had built.

It’s clear Shopify is changing the commerce landscape and their vision to shift costs for enterprise merchants away from infrastructure/IT and towards driving revenue growth is quite evident. The following are the top 4 highlights from the keynotes and sessions at Shopify Unite:

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1. Limitless Sales Channels

Traditionally, in eCommerce the term Omnichannel has referred to creating the same experience across physical retail, desktop, mobile, and other platforms. Shopify customers have had the tools to execute on this since 2013 but this passed week a multiplier was announced. In addition to the fact there are now 7 integrated sales channels on Shopify (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Amazon, Houzz, Ebates, and Wanelo), they’ve released a Sales Channel SDK which in the near future will greatly increase the revenue and growth possibilities for any business on the platform.

20 years ago, a customer would go to the store of a business to buy something, 5 years ago a customer would go there or to the website of said business to buy something. Shopify is leading the charge so in 2016 every one of their merchants can go to where their customers are, seamlessly.

This is a welcome departure from the “inventory” focus of most omni-channel discussions taking place in digital retail. If you subscribed to the belief that omni-channel is more than just inventory, then Shopify is really helping push the industry forward by focusing on consistent customer experiences.

2. Use Any Existing Website to Sell Shopify Products

Our agency has spoken with dozens of clients who are on WordPress and other home grown platforms trying to justify the cost with re-platforming to Shopify. Good news, that’s no longer mandatory. With the JavaScript Buy SDK, Merchants can add Shopify’s commerce functionality and security to their existing store which in many cases is as simple as pasting a code snippet.

When you look at the sheer volume of sites that WordPress powers this move makes a lot of sense.

3. An Enhanced iOS & Android App Development Kit

Designing and building native apps has always been a sticky subject in the world of eCommerce. If you look at many of the world’s top online merchants, you will find that most don’t have native apps. The truth is that most haven’t needed mobile apps once the responsive web came along. The cost to develop them was prohibitive, particularly when you looked at the rather terrible download/install/usage rates for many that were built.

Shopify is aiming to dramatically reduce the time to market for launching native apps, taking it from many months and hundreds of thousands of dollars, down to tens of thousands in only weeks. This is a giant step forward and one I’m personally excited for. We’ve long stayed away from native apps for the above stated reasons, not wanting to venture into this realm because we believed it would be a waste of our clients time and money.

By lowering the barrier to entry, we can see a path forward for many different types of merchants that could actually have real business reasons for wanting to provide their customers the benefits of a native app experience.

Now the questions move away from the realm of “Why would I invest so much into native?” And towards the realm of “How can our responsive website and native app strategies compliment each other?”.

4. Shopify Scripts

On the surface this may not seem like a game changer, but this feature expands the capabilities of the platform in a big way. In fact, this is the one announcement that got me most excited at Shopify UNITE. Building complex promotions and behavioral based offers type functionality within Shopify has traditionally required external apps. This wasn’t a strategy we were totally in love with. The introduction of scripts really opens a lot of doors for Shopify PLUS in enterprise commerce. Some examples of what you can do are:

  • Percentage (%) and amount ($) off a product
  • Tiered discounts
  • Buy one get one free (BOGO)

These examples are really just scratching the surface. In addition to being able to use the ones they’ve created, developers can now create their own really opening up the possibilities. We’re excited to see what our team comes up with and look forward to sharing some case studies!

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